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What is Voir Dire?

Jury duty is a task which all Americans are expected to perform when they are called.
During the voir dire jurors are asked questions about their lives to determine if they are fit to serve as unbiased participants on the jury given the parameters of a particular trial.
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2014
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In American jurisprudence, voir dire is an important part of the jury selection process. During voir dire, prospective jurors are asked a series of questions to determine whether or not they are fit to serve on the jury. Lawyers for both sides and the trial judge may ask questions and dismiss jurors, and it is hoped that the end result of voir dire is an impartial jury which will sit fairly in judgment on the case. In some cases, voir dire may be brief, but in complex or highly publicized trials, it can be a lengthy process.

Voir dire is a French term which means “to speak truth,” and it is pronounced more or less as “vwar dear.” In some regions, people use terms like “jury examination” or “jury selection” instead of voir dire. In addition to being used in the context of examining a jury, potential witnesses also usually submit to voir dire as a pre-screening process. The term may also be used to talk about examination of evidence to determine whether or not it can be admitted to trial.

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The process of voir dire starts with calling a large number of jurors. Many Americans are familiar with jury duty, a task which all Americans are expected to perform when they are called. Typically, the court calls far more jurors than it needs, so that lawyers can strike as many jurors as they need to in order to seat a fair jury. In some cases, the jurors may fill out a brief questionnaire when they report to court, and copies of their responses are given to the judge and lawyers involved in the case.

Initially, 14 people are seated in the jury box. These 14 people represent 12 potential jurors and two alternates. The people involved with the trial ask the jurors a series of questions, sometimes in a group and sometimes as individuals. If a response indicates bias, the judge or one of the lawyers can move to “strike for cause,” meaning that the juror is asked to step down because he or she will be unsuitable. Some common reasons to strike a juror include extensive knowledge of the case or the people involved in it, a demonstrated inability to be impartial about the issue at hand, or difficulty in meeting the commitment required of a juror.

In some cases, a jury may be death-qualified (DQ). When someone is on trial for a crime which could result in a capital sentence, prospective jurors who are opposed to the death penalty will be struck. Some activists strongly dislike the practice of seating a DQ jury, in addition to opposing capital sentences in general.

Each lawyer wants to build up a jury which will be favorable to his or her side. In addition to strikes for cause, jurors are also permitted peremptory strikes, strikes for which no cause need be given. These strikes are limited, so lawyers tend to use them wisely, and they try to find a cause to strike a juror, if possible, rather than wasting a peremptory strike. As individual jurors are struck from the jury box, new jurors are led up to take their places. By the end of the voir dire process, there should be 14 impartial jurors selected by mutual agreement between lawyers and the judge.

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sneakers41
Post 5

Icecream17- I agree. I think that a successful business owner that has a lot of employees would typically see the company’s point of view.

These people will tend to side with the company and will often have little sympathy for the person that was terminated especially if the employee was terminated for excessive absences from work.

This is something that a person with a strong work ethic will understand and will tend to look unfavorably upon the employee.

The prosecutor might want to have people that will most likely sympathize with the employee like a union worker, or a social worker that will tend to understand the employee’s point of view more.

Sometimes in a criminal defense voir dire an attorney will ask a question of a somewhat sensitive nature and have the pool raise a card with a number on it so that they can properly distinguish who answered the question.

Simply raising your hand makes it difficult to determine which person answered what question.

A sample voir dire question for a criminal case might include, "Has anyone in your family ever been arrested for a criminal offense?" This will help the voire dire move along and find out if there are any potential negative feelings towards law enforcement.

icecream17
Post 4

Subway11- I agree with you. I think that mastering voir dire and jury selection really depends on how comfortable you can make these potential jurors.

Most will be very guarded and uncomfortable and getting them to relax is important in order to gain insight as to their character and opinions.

The questionnaire is helpful because it could provide you with demographic information as well as answers to questions that will shed a little bit of light on the juror prejudices.

For example, in a wrongful termination case, the ideal juror for the defense or the company sued would be a high level executive and very accomplished individual.

subway11
Post 3

BrickBack-I think that mastering voir dire and jury selection are important to winning cases. Many cases have been lost because the makeup of the jury was unbalanced.

One side may have made a miscalculation or an assumption of how a particular ethnic group believes that may not be the case. These are the voir dire challenges that every attorney has to face.

Sometimes they are wrong. For example, in the OJ Simpson case the makeup of the jury was 9 African Americans, 1 Hispanic and two Caucasians. Ten of the jurors were women and two were men.

The jurors were all Democrats, half had bad experiences with law enforcement and half felt that it was acceptable to strike a family member. Also, 90% of these jurors believed that OJ Simpson could not have been guilty because he was a famous athlete.

This was a severe miscalculation on the prosecutor’s part because they felt that a jury of predominately African American women would sympathize with the victim more because they shared the same gender, but the results were very wrong.

They actually sympathize with the defendant in this case and made a grave miscalculation that lost them the case because Simpson was acquitted.

This is still a case that many people will continue talk about for many years to come.

BrickBack
Post 2

Anon29878-I am so sorry that you have had to go through that. It can be difficult to juggle clients and also comply with jury duty requirements.

Jury duty is a right that we as Americans participate in order to provide a peer evaluation of the case brought before us.

We all have a right to a jury trial if we are accused of a crime which is why this process is so important.

I know that the jury duty voir dire can be more organized, but if you ever get to serve on a jury, the experience is incredible.

I know that since you are an independent contractor you will have to juggle your schedule, but if you are selected they can not pick you again for a long time.

Voir Dire is really the opportunity that both the defense and prosecuting attorneys have to meet potential jurors. Often both sides of the case have a profile in mind of the perfect juror that will sympathize most with their side of the case.

Both sides also understand what type of juror would be detrimental to their case and try to get them eliminated as part of the jury pool as quickly as possible.

The attorneys in the case offer s voir dire questionnaire on paper before they begin their direct examination.

The reason for this is simple. The attorneys will only have about a half an hour to possibly one hour to complete the jury duty voir dire so the questionnaire helps both sides to narrow down their focus based on the answers to the responses.

Also, the questions tend to be more sensitive which will allow a more honest and candid response than if the question were read aloud.

anon29878
Post 1

Why is voir dire done in the context of a particular case? Shouldn't jury selection be done first, and a case assigned to a jury after impartiality is decided? How has the jury system developed to be such a burden on the citizen (juror)?

I am an independent contractor, and initially postponed jury duty because I was unable to organize my schedule in 4 weeks. We established this week for jury duty and I called in every night like a good citizen and on Thursday night I was told to report on Friday. On Friday I was told if selected I would need to be available at least one week. I doubt I would be selected, but I'm trying to perform my duty as a citizen in good faith. Now I've rescheduled jury duty again. I will have a day to show up and will clear my schedule for 1 week (actually I'll schedule night shifts).

The citizens asked to do jury duty are the only "volunteers" in this process and the system needs to be adjusted to not inconvenience the volunteers.

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